RICHIE EVANS' LEGACY LIVES ON AT SPEEDWEEKSby Matthew Dillner
Evans Memorial Race Special For All Mod Drivers
When the Mods would enter the pit area, there was that orange box truck with an open hauler pulling that famed number 61.
On the track he was great, gutsy and gifted. Off the track he lived life like each day was his last.
Richie Evans was the "Modified Master." Especially when it came to Speedweeks at New Smyrna Speedway.
So that is why one date during Speedweeks at Smyrna is always circled on any Mod driver's calendar. Every driver wants to win the Richie Evans Memorial 100. It's the longest race of the nine nights of action and the most prestigious by far.
“It's the big pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” says Charlie Pasteryak. “To win a race with his namesake is the biggest thing there is down here. It only comes once a year. You can talk about the Modified Tour and the Tour championship and stuff, but you win the Richie Evans Memorial during Speedweeks and you've really done something.”
Richie was no stranger to victory lane when the Mods hit New Smyrna in February. Richie is pictured here after a 1980 win. (Peter Montano photo)
The pavement at the old Florida track is now getting older with each passing season. The paint is chipped and wearing away. New cars and faces dawn the dusty dirt pit area. The stands have filled and emptied thousands of times since the legendary driver left Speedweeks for the last time. But as all of these things around us change and memories of the past start to fade, Richie Evans' legacy lives on.
“This place is Richie Evans,” explains Modified veteran Eddie Flemke about Evans' relationship with the New Smyrna Speedway. “This is the place he was dominant. He was the man.
“You want to win that race,” says Eric Beers. “When you come down here if you don't win the championship but you win that race, you have done your job.”
“Winning that race is big,” says Ted Christopher. “I have won that race a couple of times. You are winning a race named after Richie Evans, the greatest Modified driver that the sport had.”
Eddie Flemke, Jr. says that although he hasn't always been too fond of Smyrna, his Roger Hill-owned team is down here with one goal in mind.
Richie battles on the outside at New Smyrna with Charlie Jarzombek. (Pete Montano photo)
“Richie is the only reason we are here,” says Flemke. “Roger Hill wants to win that 100-lap Evans race so bad. He said if we win it we won't come here again. Last year he had said he wanted to win a race at Smyrna and I won the 50-lapper and I said 'can we go home now?' He said 'no we have to win that 100-lapper.'
“The man was never out of it,” adds Pasteryak. “It was like watching John Elway or Brett Favre. They were always in it right to the end. The man was never out of it. No matter what his mindset was, and it carried over to all the people he worked with, if you were still in the race you had a shot at winning it. That is something that these young kids don't realize these days and what he meant to me. He showed me that as long as you are out there you have a chance. It's never over till it's over. He changed the Modified world.
Richie was indeed never out of it. Even the weekend he died at in a practice crash at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia, he went out on top. As the sunset on the final weekend of racing during the 1985 season, Evans was gone but already had clinched the season's championship.
Evans' famed #61 is probably the most recognizable Modified of all-time. (Mark Southcott photo)
“It would mean a lot. Ronnie Bouchard and I were on his boat the other day talking and I said, 'you know I beat this place (Smyrna) up pretty good.' It's not that I don't like the place but sometimes it brings out the worst in competitors sometime. You go out there for nine nights and you get desperate. And a lot of it has to do with the fact that every driver that is worth his salt has run well here. No matter how well you do somewhere else you have to come to Smyrna and do well here in order to be somebody. A big part of that is the aura of Richie Evans.”
And Richie had an impact on the Modified world that nobody has come close to matching since. His will to win has become something of inspiration for other Mod competitors.
Richie raced and won at Bullrings like Islip Speedway. He stole the show at Superspeedways like Daytona and Talladega. He won on dirt and pavement. He racked up track championships all over and when his storied career was done, Evans' trophy case held nine NASCAR National Modified Championships.
That is why Richie was the king.
“He was one of the few drivers that won so many races and didn't get a lot of boos, says Pasteryak. “I mean,
Evans does battle with Harry Gant at the most famous track in Florida, Daytona International Speedway. (Peter Montano photo).
Geoff Bodine won a lot of Mod races and everybody hated him. Even Earnhardt got more boos than yays for most of his career. It was pretty special that winning as much as Richie did, the fans still loved him.”
“When we were all kids we came to Smyrna. For all of us guys that are my age now; Richie Evans was God. He was everything there was. He was always the fastest car and the hardest partier. He was the guy you always looked up to.”
And his winning ways weren't all that made his mystique February was a time to start off the season and in a big way. Evans would unload and win big. But, when the races were over each night Evans was a winner in nightlife.
Car owner Joe Brady, who fields the famous #00 that Ted Christopher is piloting during Speedweeks this year, was close friends with Richie and one of Richie's running partners when the pit gates closed and the beers were poured.
“We'd come down here with Richie and have fun all weekend long,” says Brady. “It was a lot different back then because it was for fun and wasn't as big of a business. With Richie Evans, Ron Hutter and Dick Trickle we used to go out and have one heck of a time. By Wednesday night I'd have to take the night off to rest up just to keep up with them guys. I wish Richie was here today.”
“And then after that, in the parking lot Richie's got Dick Trickle in a pick-up truck and they are doing donuts in the parking lot.
“You can go on forever telling stories of those two guys but they will never be replaced. They were unique characters and Richie was one of best.”
And Evans was even a character at the track. Modified legend Greg Sacks, who was in the pits at Speedweeks this year, shared many memories with Richie, including some fun times during their classic Speedweeks battle in 1982.
“He was so special because he was a genuine person," says Sacks. “I can tell you we were right here in the infield like we are today in 1982 and Richie and I, early in the evening were sitting here shooting the breeze. A spectator came up and had no idea who I was. He asked 'hey Richie, what are we going to do about this Sacks guy?' We had won the first two races at Smyrna that year. Richie let the guy go on and on and egged him on. He had a little twinkle in his eye while he did. And then he finally after letting the fan dig a deep hole said 'why don't you ask him?' And then he pointed to me. It cracked me up.”
And if you spend time in Brady's hauler you are bound to hear one of the great tales of partying sometime during the week.
“We used to have parties down there at JB's, the Fish Camp that sponsors our cars down here now. We went down there one night. We were all sitting there drinking and partying and next thing you know it looked like one of those old fashioned saloon fights. There were beer bottles bottles bouncing off mirrors and everything else. I said to Slater (driver Bill Slater) 'man we are all going to jail tonight' and he said 'nope, that's the owner throwing the bottles and stuff.' And there is Richie in the middle of it all, throwing bottles and stuff.
Richie is on the top of the record books but will his legend live on?
Only two drivers racing at Speedweeks this season have even competed against Richie Evans. Ted Christopher and Charlie Pasteryak are the only one's competing that say they shared the track with Richie once or twice early on in their careers.
With a changing of the guard in the Modified world, will his legacy continue?
“Maybe his legacy isn't meant to live on,” questions Pasteryak. “I think his legend will always be there and what he did. But the new kids that come in here and
Charlie Pasteryak knows how important having heros like Richie Evans is to a kid behihd the fence.
stand on the fence and watch like I did will have their new legends. The Donny Lia's, the Bobby Santos III's, the Zach Sylvester's or Nevin George's. The young kids that stand at the same fence that I did as a kid; they are still there. And their hero's are different now. When I grew up you had Leo Cleary, Bugs Stevens, Bill Slater, Freddy Dessaro and Gene Bergin and Richie. Those were the guys when I was at that fence.”
Richie was named one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers, but there is no doubt that when it comes to Modifieds, he is the greatest there ever was.
“He's like 'Mr. Modified,'” says Beers. “I only got a chance to see him race once or twice but when you think about Modifieds you think of him first. He's the greatest driver that ever lived in this division. Just the stories and what he did is awesome.”
“When you look up Modified in the dictionary,” says Christopher, “they have a picture of his face there. The guy lived, ate and drank Modifieds. He built his own cars and everything. That is what a Modified was. That was him.”
Richie lived hard and raced hard. And no finish in his career was more evident of just that than this legendary finish with Geoff Bodine at Martinsville Speedway, which he won while riding along the wall on two wheels. (Martinsville Speedway)